Over 150 people attended the Atlantic Small Business Forum held in conjunction with Bank of America and Gallup at the Gallup Building. The event which included speakers and guests from the entrepreneurial community began with registration and a light breakfast and followed with intellectually stimulating conversation. For attendees, the event was an opportunity to witness live interviews of entrepreneurs including Alex Ohanian, the Co-founder of Reddit and Nick Friedman, the Co-founder and President of College Hunks Hauling Junk who discussed topics ranging from the start of their business to what it takes to be a entrepreneur. Friedman even discussed the continual education it takes to be a success including mentioning one of his favorite books “The Purple Cow” by Seth Godin and how the combination of talent as well as learning fundamentals, similar to an athlete, were necessary in being an successful entrepreneur.
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Moderators for each segment included reporters and editors from The Atlantic and BBC News and the overall program featured panel discussions, keynotes and case studies intended to serve as a catalyst to stimulate prosperity in the small business community. Following the initial interview and case study was a Panel Discussion entitled “Facilitating Prosperity in the Small Business Community.” The discussion was facilitated by the Editor at Large of The Atlantic, Steve Clemons who asked questions of the five panelist which covered topics ranging from crowdfunding to economic outlook and even healthcare and other political topics that affected small business owners. As panelist Karen Kerrigan explained while there was optimism as outlined by the report on Small Business Owner Report published by Bank of America, there were concerns ranging from the strength of the economy to the ability of political leaders to solve questions.
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One of the frequent topics in entrepreneurial discussions is funding. Y. Maria Martinez, the inspirational Founder and CEO of Respira Medical who launched her business against all odds and without any money and credit, hoped that banks would “change their mindset and help grow business that were less than $5M or $10M .” Another panelist was Robb Hilson the Small Business Executive for Bank of America and he explained that while capital was important, it was also important for political leaders to address the “lack of certainty around the economy” and cultivate a “business friendly environment.”
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Recently there has been a decline in entrepreneurial activity–specifically as panelist Martin Bailey outlined a slowing down in hiring and investment. Unlike during the Clinton Administration, “an easier time to be in charge of the economy,” hiring and investment, two key factors in economic growth, have stalled and declined tremendously. There are many theories about the reason for the causes of this slow down, and Zoltan Acs, the Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at George Mason University explained that “the only thing that matters is what the best and brightest in your country want to do.” Acs explained to the audience that in the United States, the best and the brightest want to be entrepreneurs and he even pointed to factors such as the aging of one of the most entrepreneurial generation, the Baby Boomers and the shrinking of the middle class who are more likely than other groups to become entrepreneurs as additional reasons for the decline in hiring and investment.
After the Panel Discussion, there were three Case Studies with Rachel Chong, the Founder & CEO of Catchafire, Dave Gilboa, the Co-founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer, Warby Parker and Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru, the Co-founders of Sweetgreen.
Overall, it was a successful event which continued much needed positive yet realistic discussion related to issues and concerns in the small business community.